Snow Patrol with support from Ryan McMullan & Sam Fender
Friday 7th December 2018 – SSE Arena, Belfast
In the space of an hour, I went from slouched on my couch, “revising,” to boarding a train, my heart beating out of my chest. On the 7th December, I witnessed Snow Patrol and guests perform to a sold out SSE Arena in Belfast. Whether you like them or not, Snow Patrol remain an important band. Their presence on a worldwide stage has helped put Northern Ireland on the map, not for its negativity but for its passion, for its music. Many of us who grew up around the time of Snow Patrol’s ascent into a household act have a certain attachment to the band. With ‘Chasing Cars’ reverberating round the house – “You know these boys are from Bangor”- there’s an intangible link, fostered by a childhood affection. Therefore, I felt it only appropriate to bring my Dad along for the experience. The weather was miserable, causing fans to huddle together like penguins as they waited, impatient, for doors to open. It is already 6.30 pm. Then, like the pearled gates of heaven, they were opened and the night began.
First to take to the stage, hailing from North Shields in England, was Sam Fender and his band. He immediately made everyone aware that he was not going to be deterred by the sheer size of the room which he acknowledged, “Definitely a step up from the rooms we’ve been playing this year”. Performing material from his Dead Boys EP, released in November, with the title track being the most popular. The blunt yet poignant lyrics “All the dead boys in our hometown” was sung in a husky and vulnerable tone and the power of it felt Bono-esque. The minimalist stage design made it look like they were just lads performing in their garage except with a well oiled set and chemistry. As they finished with fan favourite ‘Play God’, Fender thanked the crowd. I would say to expect big things for Fender, but he has just been chosen as the critics choice for the Brit Awards next year so it would suggest he’s already well on his way.
After a brief intermission, Portaferry singer-songwriter Ryan McMullan approached the stage to warm the crowd before the main act. There is no doubting his talent with a strong voice and a cadence that reminded me of Ed Sheeran, my Dad was soon to correct me however and thought it more David Gray. He switched between keyboard, electric and acoustic guitar with help from a drummer who appeared midway through the set. Performing material from 2015’s Listen and 2017’s A Winter’s Coat, McMullan also noted his appreciation for Snow Patrol hailing them as his “Favourite band… bar The Beatles” before performing ‘We Dont’t Have to Run’. In between songs, McMullan repeated “how’s the voices Belfast?” and made attempts to get the crowd to join in, despite their disagreement to this. The highlight of the set was the performance of his latest single, ‘Letting Go For A Little While’ which came with a backstory of him leaving to go live in Australia and saying goodbye to his parents at the airport. This had the effect of choking my Dad up and that’s testament to the songwriting, which clearly connected even in a gig of this magnitude. On the final song ‘Oh Susanna’, Mcmullan’s persistence paid off as a section of the audience joined him in a sing-along as well as phone lights which glittered around the stage and I commend him for the confidence he showed.
As the set finished, a flick of a switch and my surroundings are illuminated. As I observed the standing audience in front of me I saw couples, families and mates all wrapped up in the moment with smiles, laughter and the sharp strike of camera flashes. These congregated groups united in their excitement as the stage lights came alive, met with screams of their own frequency and ambient music began to play. The screen behind displaying satellite images of earth as Gary Lightbody, Nathan Connolly, Johnny Quinn, Johnny McDaid and Paul Wilson aka Snow Patrol casually strolled out to meet this wall of gratitude and excitement. ‘Chocolate’ from 2004’s Final Straw opens the show. Lightbody has a smile as wide of the room as he gallops across the stage with an occasional arm stretched to the sky. At the finish of the song, the audience is eating out of the palms of their hands as Lightbody addresses them, “You absolute legends”.
A few chords played and the audience knew before a lyric was sung – ‘Take Back The City’ from 2008’s A Hundred Million Suns was the next song. An animation of a city falling apart played in the background as Lightbody exclaims “I love this city tonight, I love this city always,” lyrics that don’t have the same meaning when performed anywhere else. A woman in the row in front of me was seemingly enthralled by Paul Wilson’s bass, as she began to perform an interpretive dance to it. Shortly after, Lightbody spoke to the crowd, finally able to articulate himself as he described the crowd as “truly amazing”. Without going into too much detail, he apologised for the length of absence between albums and said frankly, “Just had to work some shit out”. Lightbody also informed the audience that the band have been together 25 years, longer than I have been alive. The relationship between the band and the audience was very much one of familiarity, like friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while. Appropriately, the band transitioned into another cut from A Hundred Million Suns in ‘Crack The Shutters’. Lightbody humoured the audience, “We didn’t do nothing in those seven years” before sliding into ‘Empress’.
The audience was then treated to a few deeper cuts from the band’s discography, ‘How To Be Dead’ from Final Straw was the first. Purple lights shot out into lasers, stretching to the length of the arena as monochrome visuals looped in the background. Lead single from Wildness, ‘Don’t Give In’, was next and prompted the mantra to be sung in unison. It also allowed for guitarist Nathan Connolly to flex towards the end with an impressive solo. Before the next song, Lightbody reiterates “So good to be here” before ‘Set The Fire To The Third Bar’ is performed accompanied with a holographic vignette of featured artist Martha Wainwright.
We were then treated to an announcement of Ward Park 3, a return to Bangor’s Ward Park in a show that as well as a Snow Patrol performance will include a host of Northern Irish musical talent including Foy Vance, Ash, ROE, Kit Philippa, Wood Burning Savages, Brand New Friend, Jealous Of The Birds and SOAK. Lightbody mused proudly, “It’s a Northern Irish show celebrating Northern Irish music”. The performance of ‘Open Your Eyes’ featured the best visuals, with grainy footage of a car travelling through a city and ending with an embracing couple, a perfect fit for the feeling of the song.
The instrumental break in this song showed a well-experienced band lost in the performance, before coming up for air at the end to the open hands of the audience which is summed up by the sentiments of Lightbody – “Aw that’s magic”. Following this, “A song I wrote in a shitty flat in 2001, the electricity in the flat had just gone out and the chorus of this song has nothing to do with that” as they fall into ‘Run’. I was also pleased to see a performance of a personal favourite in ‘You Could Be Happy’ which involved elaborate stage effects as a veil covered the stage, allowing the band to withdraw into their own universe and reinforce the bedtime story nature of the song. Later on in the set, the band go for another from the archives in ‘Make This Go On Forever’ which was fitting for the audience’s mood. Despite slight technical issues, Lightbody persevered. Towards the end of the song, Lightbody approached the audience repeating the lyric “Please just save me from this darkness” as if pleading to the audience. As the music continues to play, Lightbody comes up for air taking everything in.
Lightbody takes a moment to show thank the support acts and hails McMullan an “extraordinary songwriter” and that he had been listening to Fender “obsessively” in the past year before breaking into undoubtedly their greatest hit song of the last decade, ‘Chasing Cars’. A woman in front stood up and prompted others to follow suit. My Dad and I obliged. Taking in the surrounding arena, from the clump of people in the middle to the dots of people at the higher seats, hairs were standing on the back of my neck as the beautiful voices of Belfast sung a song that is as much theirs as it is Snow Patrol’s. The band leave the stage after a performance of ‘You’re All That I Have’, but the audience is not finished. Stamps of feet and a rallying cry of “ONE MORE SONG!” is belted by the capacity like a collective of stubborn toddlers who have had their sweets taken away. We were met with a red colour tracing an outline of the words ‘What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get?’ and Lightbody is helped with the falsetto bridge of the song by the audience who were not going to leave him stranded. The show is closed with the triumphant ‘Just Say Yes’ and the band are showered in a round of applause.
As crowds and crowds of people made a congested exit from the arena adrenaline fuelled conversations talking about the night, a litany of compliments. People who didn’t even know each other, connecting over it and that’s what music is supposed to do in my eyes. As well as provide memories, and Snow Patrol facilitated that and provided a soundtrack for it. I have a memory with my Dad, and many others have memories with their families, significant others and mates. So, after that long-winded review; a simple sentiment- thank you Snow Patrol.